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Jack in no rush to start college career
Kadeem Jack was 14 years old, a 6-foot-6 freshman walking back from St. Albans Park in Queens, N.Y., with a soccer ball in his hand when a stranger approached him and asked him why he wasn’t playing basketball.
Shortly thereafter, Damian Leslie — in the early stages of putting together a documentary on New York City basketball — was talking to Jack’s mother, claiming her son, who spent most of his childhood in Trinidad, would have every college in America calling by the time he finished high school.
Kadeem Jack is one of the top college basketball prospects in the Class of 2010.Kadeem Jack
"It sounded crazy,” Jack laughs.
But it’s exactly what has transpired.
The now 6-foot-9, 210-pound Jack, who spent the past three years at Rice High playing for Mo Hicks, burst onto the national scene this past season.
There were scholarship offers from UConn, Arizona, Miami and Arkansas.
Then came Kentucky and even North Carolina.
But Jack stuck to the original plan, which was to spend three years at Rice and then go to prep school for a post-grad campaign.
He turned them all down.
"I know it sounds crazy,” Jack said. "But I just feel like this is the best decision for me.”
Jack went to Trinidad when he was just a toddler to live with his aunt. Eleven years later, he returned to New York to move back with his mother.
It was in Trinidad that he took up soccer and also learned that he wasn’t going to be handed anything in life.
"I think it was great for my attitude,” Jack said. "Because we had less than everyone else.”
Jack didn’t play any sports as a freshman at Francis Lewis High in Flushing, N.Y. However, at Leslie’s recommendation, Jack enrolled at Rice High for his sophomore season.
"It was somewhere where I could develop,” Jack said. "They had developed high-major players.”
Jack sat and watched Kemba Walker and Durand Scott, who were both upperclassmen, and his only playing time came in blowouts.
He started his junior campaign but was in and out of the rotation and said he only averaged about 10 minutes a game.
"I still hadn’t gained any respect from anyone,” he said. "I felt like I was ready, but I wasn’t mentally strong enough and the game was too fast for me.”
Jack went to summer school a year ago and focused on his schoolwork and also his skills rather than jumping from one AAU tournament to the next.
After the first three games of his senior season, the light just went on.
"I started off my senior year like my junior year,” Jack said. "I didn’t show up and was kind of confused, but then one of my coaches told me they were thinking of benching me and I took it to heart.”
Jack went out and got 17 points and 15 boards.
"I started to play with passion and just left it all on the floor every night,” he said. "I got results.”
The results also came in the form of recruiting circles — where Arizona, UConn, Miami and Arkansas were among the bigger name schools to extend scholarship offers.
"At first, it was exciting,” Jack said. "But then, it got crazy.”
They all wanted to bring this raw, emerging long and athletic big man in this year. But his plan had been in place since he first arrived at Rice.
"I was always going to do three years at Rice and then a year of prep school,” Jack said. "We all thought it would be the best route for me.”
But even Jack admits he had second thoughts when some of the nation’s elite programs began expressing interest.
"When I walked into school a few weeks ago, my old AAU coach told me he had good news,” Jack said. "News that may change my decision. That’s when he told me North Carolina called.”
"That’s when I was starting to re-evaluate everything. That maybe I was ready to make the jump,” he added. "But then a lot of other people brought me back down to earth and made me realize this is what’s best for me and my future.”
"He really didn’t fight it too much,” Leslie said. "He knows he needs to polish his game, and prep school is the best place for him to do that.”
Now, instead of preparing to head to summer school in Chapel Hill, Lexington, Storrs or Tucson, Jack will instead get ready to go out this weekend to the Tournament of Champions with his new summer team — the New England Playaz.
"I’m definitely at peace with my decision,” Jack said.
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